By Doug Porter
History was made yesterday. The primal scream of the families of gun violence victims echoed through the halls of Congress.
One hundred sixty-eight Democrats from the House of Representatives and thirty-four of their colleagues from the Senate are staging an ongoing sit-in, making a statement aimed at reducing the incidence of gun violence in the United States.
Just as Black students staging sit-ins at lunch counters in the 20th century didn’t reverse decades of legal discrimination or centuries of racism, the actions of Congressional Democrats aren’t likely to end with legislation signed by the President. Things will never be the same again, and that’s the point. It may take months. It will more likely take years. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, Jr., the long arc of the moral universe bent in the direction of justice on Capitol Hill yesterday.
“What Would Bring This Body to Take Action?”
From the Los Angeles Times:
It began Wednesday, when shortly after the House gaveled in for a routine day of legislating, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) strode into the chamber, stood at a lectern and called on his colleagues to join him. Within moments, about two dozen lawmakers gathered around him as he spoke.
Then many sat, legs crossed, on the chamber’s blue-carpeted floor. By midafternoon, scores more had arrived to show their support, vowing to stay until they received a vote on gun-control legislation.
“I wondered, what would bring this body to take action?” thundered Lewis, who as a young man marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “What is right, what is just for the people of this country? … They have lost hundreds and thousands of innocent people to gun violence. What has this body done? Nothing. Not one thing.”
The actual legislation at the heart of this matter is flawed. Universal background checks without a funding mechanism are doomed to failure. The so-called No Fly list is a joke on a par with the terrorism alert system used by the Bush administration. Congressman John Lewis and Senator Ted Kennedy were erroneously placed on the “watch list” in 2004.
The reality of the present situation is that a hypothetical bill banning fruit flies from gun ownership wouldn’t make it out of committee. It’s the process, whereby a single industry front group dictates policy to all Americans, that is what should be important.
The nattering nabobs of the internet were merciless in rooting for perfection over progress throughout the day. It was sad to watch otherwise intelligent people not see the forest for the trees.
This showdown is no cure-all: lobbyists will lobby, legislators will continue to serve special interests and Republicans will continue to try to repeal Obamacare. I maintain that history will show that June 22, 2016 to be the date where progress was started.
Even those who despair of Congress ever getting its act together have been moved by what has happened.
The sit-in is a bracing and potentially consequential diversion from the contemporary norm. It is disruptive but civil and nonviolent. No individual outbursts of hatred and anger, no conspiracy theories — just a plea for common sense on a matter of signal importance to the country and an opportunity for democratic accountability. The media now has a story other than the presidential horse race, one that might actually resonate with regular folks.
Nothing may come of this. The safest bet is always against Congress passing gun control legislation. But this time may be different. The agenda is modest: keeping automatic weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. It is well short of the ambitious agenda passed (to the Australian public’s great benefit) by a conservative Australian government in 1996 in the aftermath of a mass killing. Public support is unusually high. Civil disobedience has heightened its salience. Republicans know they are holding a weak hand in the election, one the National Rifle Association cannot strengthen. Sixty votes in the Senate, 218 in the House are not beyond reach. If not this year, maybe next.
There’s an App for That:
Rep. Scott Peters to the Rescue
Democratic Congressman Scott Peters, who last year earned the enmity of labor and progressives over his stances on trade, ended up with a starring role in the Congressional showdown. (All of San Diego’s Democratic Congresspeople joined.)
After TV cameras on the House floor were turned off, Peters’ cell phone videos became the media messenger. A continuous supply of fresh batteries kept a video feed alive. CSPAN picked up and broadcast the images. TV networks used clips. Over a million people viewed the footage via social media.
— Nicky Woolf (@NickyWoolf) June 22, 2016
From the Times of San Diego:
The San Diego Democrat, who turned 58 on Friday, turned to a pair of twentysomething press aides to be the first and primary broadcaster Wednesday of an unprecedented Democratic sit-in over gun control in the House of Representatives.
Press assistant Quin La Capra said she and press secretary Jacob Peters (no relation) were “sort of brainstorming” Wednesday morning over how to share the Democrats’ protest.
“It really was mainly a decision of whether we wanted to go with Periscope or Facebook Live,” La Capra told Times of San Diego. “And since Scott is more active on Twitter, I think he determined that Periscope would just be the easier external app to download.”
The beauty of what happened in the House of Representatives was that it took control of the story away from the Republican leadership. They wanted the discussion on gun violence to go away and hoped to not even have to go on the record regarding any legislative proposals by using procedural gimmicks.
At one point there were rumors about the GOP leadership meeting with police over having the protest ended through arrests.
From CBS News:
At around 10 p.m., Ryan entered the chamber and began presiding over a vote to override President Obama’s veto of the House attempt to nullify the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, an administration measure requiring retirement planners to put retirees’ investment interests ahead of their profits. Ryan attempted to speak over the Democrats gathered in the chamber, but the Democrats–as well as some spectators in the gallery–began shouting and chanting over Ryan.
As Ryan spoke, he was barely audible over the chants of “No bill, no break.” Democrats then began chanting “Shame, shame, shame,” continuing to drown out Ryan’s attempts to get the House in order, and then begun singing “We shall overcome.”
The House is now officially adjourned until after the July 4th holiday. Democrats have not left the floor and say they will continue the protest when the session re-starts.
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) June 23, 2016
Hundred of people gathered outside Congress into the evening and overnight to show support for the sit-in. Constituents called in from around the country and had pizzas delivered to the floor.
And there were emotional speeches both inside and outside the building.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Rep. Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.) talked about the death of his son, who was shot and killed in 1999. Rush described feeling helpless after his son died.
“I never will forget the primal scream of my son’s mother,” Rush said on the Capitol steps.
Rep. Elizabeth Esty (D-Conn.) said she, too, remembered the “primal screams” of family members at a firehouse after the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown.
David Corn at Mother Jones highlighted the five most memorable events of the day, ending with:
Earlier on Wednesday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Florida) came to the podium to read a letter from her friend, former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head by a gunman at a 2011 constituent meeting in Tucson. The gunman also killed six others.
“If these Republican cowards that runs this chamber would actually turn the microphones on, then we could all be heard a little bit louder,” Wasserman-Schultz said before reading the letter.
She recalled reading Giffords’ letter of resignation in 2012 on the House floor. While reading Giffords’ latest words aloud, Schultz began to cry. “Speaking now is difficult for me, but I haven’t been silenced, and neither should the American people,” she read, her voice shaking.
Congressmen and Criminals and Terrorists, Oh My
The reaction on the right was disgust and disdain.
From Media Matters:
The National Rifle Association’s radio show compared participants in a sit-in in the U.S. House of Representatives being led by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to “criminals and terrorists” reasoning that like terrorists, the sit-in participants were not following the rules.
During the extended takeover of the House floor by Democrats, a Texas congressman rushed to the well of the chamber to challenge taunts from Democrats that the Republicans are both cowards and responsible for the spree-shooting massacre in Orlando.
“Radical Islam killed those poor innocent victims! Radical Islam killed those poor innocent victims!” said Rep. Louie Gohmert (R.-Texas) pointing to a placard with the faces of the 49 victims killed June 12 by a Omar Mateen at Orlando’s Pulse, a gay nightclub. Some of the victims and more than 50 survivors were shot by police officers, but the details have not been released.
Oh, and about that Radical Islam thing… maybe we should wait until all the facts are in…
The man, who wore a disguise in his interview with Univision and was identified only as “Miguel,” said Mateen’s attack at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub was the result of a sexual encounter with two Latino men, one of which Mateen later discovered was HIV positive. The attack, carried out at the nightclub’s Latino night, was Mateen’s attempt at taking revenge against a specific community of gay men who he felt had used and rejected him, the man said.
“He adored Latinos, gay Latinos, with brown skin, but he felt rejected. He felt used by them. There were moments in the Pulse nightclub that made him feel really bad. Guys used him. That really affected him,” Miguel told Univision. “I believe this crazy horrible thing he did, that was revenge.”
Message Paid for by NRA
I’ve had it with the gun grabbing Democrats and their sit in anti 2nd amendment jihad. I’m going to go home and buy a new gun.
— Steve King (@SteveKingIA) June 23, 2016
Here’s the Point of It All
Donald Trump made a speech yesterday about Hillary Clinton and forgot to bring along any facts.
House Speaker Paul Ryan rolled out his long-awaited outline-for-how-the-GOP-replaces-Obamacare plan yesterday.
And nobody cared.
In addition to keeping the issues relating to gun violence front and center, yesterday’s events will likely have an impact on the November elections.
From the Washington Post:
The organic nature of the sit-in — most Democratic members outside of Reps. John Lewis (Ga.) and Katherine Clark (Mass.) were unaware of it before it launched Wednesday afternoon — is just the sort of thing that will thrill rank-and-file Democrats. The Democratic party committees will fundraise like crazy off of this event. So will Hillary Clinton, who will highlight it the next time she speaks publicly. Democrats had been privately concerned about the enthusiasm of their party base when compared to Republicans during the primary voting process. A high profile event like this one should help narrow that gap.
It’s true. Voters get excited when their congresscritters grow a spine.
On This Day: 1947 Congress overrode President Harry Truman’s veto of the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act. The law weakened unions and let states exempt themselves from union requirements. Twenty states immediately enacted open shop laws and more followed. 1966 – Civil Rights marchers in Mississippi were dispersed by tear gas. 1972 – President Nixon and White House chief of staff H.R. Haldeman discussed a plan to use the CIA to obstruct the FBI’s Watergate investigation.
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